Eric Trump being sleazy about his father’s tax returns, an annotated guide

Very tricky

CREDIT: AP Photo/Matt Slocum
CREDIT: AP Photo/Matt Slocum

After last night’s debate, Eric Trump, son of Donald, appeared on CNN and faced repeated questions about his father’s tax returns.

Specifically, CNN’s Dana Bash wanted to know if Donald Trump had paid any federal income taxes in the last couple of decades.

The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake watched the appearance and concluded that Eric Trump confirmed his father paid federal income taxes.

Others drew similar conclusions:

Eric Trump: Donald ‘Absolutely’ Pays Federal TaxesEric Trump insisted that his father pays federal income taxes when grilled about it by a CNN reporter on Tuesday night…www.thedailybeast.comEric Trump Says Father ‘Absolutely’ Paid Federal Income TaxFollowing the first vice-presidential debate, the Republican nominee’s son is attempting to put one issue to rest…abcnews.go.comEric Trump Says His Father “Absolutely” Paid Federal Income TaxesEric Trump on Tuesday did what his father so far hasn’t: Stated emphatically that Donald Trump has “absolutely” paid…www.buzzfeed.comCNN thought they had a scoop, too.

This isn’t, however, what Eric Trump said.

It’s hard to fault viewers, however, for reaching that conclusion. Eric Trump clearly wanted to create the impression — among journalists and the public — that his father paid federal income taxes. If you watch the video, you might be left with the same impression.

But a close reading of what he said reveals that he did not say it. Let’s go to the transcript.

Dana Bash: There was a lot of talk tonight about federal income taxes. Can you just put this to rest? Has your father paid federal income taxes?

Eric Trump: We pay a tremendous amount of taxes.

Eric accomplishes a lot here. He both shifts the object from “federal income taxes” to “taxes” but also the subject from his father to “we.” So he’s no longer just talking about Donald Trump. He’s talking about his family and his family business.

Bash: Federal income taxes?

Eric Trump: Yes. And beyond…

The shift in subject allows Eric to answer “Yes” but he very well could be referring to corporate income.

Bash: Yes? Yes? Yes?

Bash recognizes something is up and seeks a confirmation.

Eric Trump: And beyond taxes, we also employ tens and tens of thousands of people. The difference between my father and Hillary Clinton is Hillary Clinton has lived off of the government her entire life. She never created a single job.

Eric is now clearly talking about the business, not his father as an individual. He hasn’t answered the question.

Bash: Eric my question is though: has he paid federal income taxes over the last 18 years? Yes or no.

That’s why Bash is now asking again.

Eric Trump: Of course, yes. Absolutely. My father pays a tremendous amount of tax. We as a company pay a tremendous amount of tax. We as a company also hire a tremendous amount of people, which leads to people being able to provide for their family, people being able to take care of their families, people being able to educate their children.

This is a helpful explanation of the benefits having a job but notably does not answer whether his father has paid federal income taxes. He answers the question affirmatively, but his justification for the affirmative answer is only that his father pays “a tremendous amount of tax.”

It would be easy here for Eric to say he pays tremendous income taxes and he does not do it.

Eric Trump: If you look at Hillary on the other hand, she has never signed the front of a check once. She has never balanced a budget sheet…

Bash: So if we ever see your father’s income taxes, it will show that he has paid federal income taxes.

Eric Trump: There is no question about it. We pay tremendous taxes as a company.

Clearly Bash knows that Eric has not actually answered the question, that’s why she is continuing to probe.

Trump says “there is no question about it.” But then makes clear that he’s conflating corporate taxes with his father’s individual return.

Bash: Will we see it?

Eric Trump: Well listen, when the audit is over my father will release it.

Bash: Have you seen his tax returns?

Eric Trump: And quite frankly, quite frankly, when is she going to release the hundreds of speeches that she gave to special interests? When is she going to release the hundreds of speeches she gave to Wall Street? Where are those speeches? Why won’t she release them? When is she going to release the 33,000 emails…

Eric does not want to answer this question.

Bash: Have you seen his federal income taxes?

Eric Trump: …that she deleted after, quite frankly, lying to the Department of Justice, lying to the FBI and also lying to Congress.

Bash: Eric, I’m pretty impressed, actually…

John King: You should show up at debate prep

Bash: Exactly. You haven’t been in politics that long and you are doing the pivot quite well.

Oddly, the CNN’s commentators take some time to compliment Eric for not answering their questions before pressing on.

Eric Trump: We…

Bash: If you could just put a button on this. Have you seen your father’s income taxes?

Eric Trump: I don’t study our tax returns. That why you have…

This isn’t answering the question but note Eric subtly conflating his father’s personal returns with “our tax returns.”

Bash: But have you seen them, I mean…

Eric Trump: Of course you see tax returns.

Eric clearly is stating here that he has seen some tax returns. So that’s helpful.

Bash: Have you seen your father’s tax returns? And your confident…

Eric Trump: I’m answering the question. Of course I’ve seen my father’s tax returns.

Ok, great! He should be about to clear this right up.

Bash: And he’s paid federal taxes?

Eric Trump: My father pays a tremendous amount of tax. As a company we pay a tremendous amount of tax. And it goes so far beyond federal income taxes. How about real estate taxes? How about employment taxes? How about sales taxes? How about every other type of tax that goes into that? We pay a tremendous amount of tax as a company.

This is the giveaway. Given the opportunity to state clearly that his father has paid federal income taxes, he avoids the question and says, “[m]y father pays a tremendous amount of tax.” He then talks about corporate taxes and all sort of other taxes. He doesn’t mention income taxes.


Notably, Donald Trump’s top communications aide, Jason Miller, was asked explicitly whether Trump paid federal income taxes and also refused to answer.

Eric Trump: That is very very very different than Hillary Clinton who has lived off the government for 40 years.

Wolf Blitzer: John King has a question but very quickly, why not release the income tax returns that are no longer under audit.

Eric Trump: Listen, my father said when the audits are over, he will release the taxes. My father has also said, “Hey, listen Hillary Clinton why don’t you release the 33,000 you deleted and why don’t you release your speech transcripts and when you do I’ll release my tax returns.” And this is a whole distraction.

Blitzer: Because 2002 to 2008 are no longer under audit.

Eric Trump: I don’t know if that’s true.

It’s true.

Blitzer: That’s what the attorneys, Morgan Lewis, the law firm for Donald Trump…

Eric Trump: Then quite frankly Wolf…

Blitzer: Have said that only…

Eric Trump: …you know something I don’t

Blitzer: …well they released a public letter, Morgan Lewis, that’s a major New York law firm

For someone who has spoken at length about his father’s tax returns, he seems very unfamiliar with the status of the audit. Here is the letter, which was published to the Trump campaign website.

Eric Trump was perhaps more honest on Monday during an appearance on a local radio show when he acknowledged that his father was not releasing his taxes because the information could be politically damaging.